the cardinals appear to be in the midst of a division struggle to see which team wants to win least.
at the moment, the NL central seems likely to end in a four way tie of teams at 82-80. it won't, of course. but it would not hurt to look around at what we could get.
and, listen, nobody wants to hear about jose reyes, and i am personally sick of hearing about heath bell. while he's a decent reliever, he seems to be the flavor of the month for reasons not very clear to me. so, that's the last you'll hear of either.
if you're looking for an excellent closer-type rental who is available, check koji uehara out.
koji uehara has a 7:1 K/BB rate this season; last season, he has an 11:1 K/BB rate. that's just sick. that guy who i promised not to name has a 2.5 to 3.5 K/BB rate.
the upside is that he's very cheap - at $3m for the year. he does have a $4m option which vests on certain performance benchmarks. he is likely to meet those benchmarks if he stays healthy. he's older and a bit of an injury risk.
it's hard to find a good comp for a major trade for a closer along these lines. billy wagner was traded from the mets to the red sox a couple years ago for virtually nothing in the way of talent; the trade was a salary dump on an expensive, aging reliever. jose valverde was traded to houston in an ed wade special, in which houston failed to realize that one of the chips (chad qualls) was actually a much better reliever than valverde. the moral of that story was not to let meaningless statistics like the save statistic trick you into trading a better reliever for a worse reliever.
maybe the best comp is the matt capps trade. capps was a pretty good setup man/closer who was traded midseason to the twins by the nationals. the twins gave up wilson ramos and a middling LH reliever prospect. wilson ramos is now a rookie of the year candidate and the nats starting catcher. at the time of the trade he was the #56 prospect on the baseball america list. he's not a bryan anderson comp; we'd be talking about zack cox. i don't really care if it's heath bell or uehara or whoever; i really don't want to trade zack cox for a few months of even a top flight reliever.
the problem is that the market is incredibly variable, because GM's are still fairly inconsistent in valuing relievers. that's why i hate the idea of picking up bell; while he's a decent closer, he's the flavor of the month. the more the hype grows around him, the more unreasonable his price gets. that's why finding the hidden bargains in the market is such a challenge. the only way we should get such a deal done is by finding that bargain, who's undervalued by his GM or by the market.
other names to consider for relievers: the aforementioned chad qualls (who does have either a very expensive $6m club option or a $1m buyout coming), francisco rodriguez (far too expensive without salary relief), the aforementioned matt capps, and kerry wood (not likely, coming from a division rival, and secretly not a very good pitcher, either).
larry borowsky, VEB godfather, said several weeks ago that we should instead look at starting pitchers to bump someone - probably kyle mcclellan - out of the rotation.
my first choice, which may or may not be on the market, would be to vulture the suffering dodgers franchise. in the middle of a public and embarrassing dispute, cutting salary may be high on their list of priorities. i can't overlook the $12m contract for hiroki kuroda. the big problem is that kuroda has a no-trade clause and seems to love LA, refusing to even consider offers from other teams in the off-season.
on the other hand, then 2011 happened. the dodgers are out of contention and the club is in a shambles. he surely can't count on being re-signed in 2012 when the club may not make payroll at the end of june. the club does not look like any kind of contender. right now, the cards may be in a great spot to get the dodgers front office to let them talk to kuroda. have so taguchi call him up and tell him about being in st. louis. if they can shed his salary, the dodgers may let him go at a serious discount in terms of talent; right now, i'm not sure management cares very much about making sure the farm is well-stocked for bud selig when he takes it over.
elsewhere on the club, ted lilly is a very expensive starter for the next three years, making him very movable from the dodgers' perspective, but i'm not sure i want to be paying him $13m when he's 37. billingsley and kershaw are not on even the mccourts' trade list. garland might be another option, but at $5m this year and a vesting $8m option next, i'm not sure he's so expensive that moving him would be a priority for the dodgers.
kevin slowey has all but been parked in the twins driveway with "B prospect OBO. call 800-555-TWIN" written in soap on his windshield since the beginning of the season. he has a high injury risk, but would still represent a substantial improvement - 3.75 FIP projected by ZiPS for the rest of the season, v. 4.16 for kyle mcclellan. word is the asking price would be very low. while he is an injury risk, he has two arb years left beyond this season, which lends the club the flexibility to retain him or cut him loose at the end of the season. making $2.7m this year, he should be a decent $4m starter next year.
erik bedard (projected FIP 3.51 rest of the way) would be another injury-risk trade prospect, though the mariners aren't out of it in the AL West at the moment.
a lot of other perennial high risk starter options have finally fallen on the "done" side of the ledger. javier vasquez keeps looking terrible. rich harden and VEB lust object ben sheets are off the table.
not to be incomplete, internal starter prospect lance lynn has a very nice 3.55 FIP so far and a respectable 4.38 FIP projection for the rest of the season. he's looked solid so far as a major league pitcher and may continue to improve.